Legal, Licensed Tiger Owner Under Fire From The Animal Legal Defense Fund

A 2014 state law that has allowed Tony the 550-pound Bengal tiger to stay in a roadside enclosure at an Iberville Parish truck stop is an illegal special law that gives preferential treatment to his owner, a national animal rights group argued Tuesday in a court filing.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, which has been fighting for six years to free Tony from his truck stop home in Grosse Tete, is asking state District Judge Janice Clark to declare the 2014 law — Act 697 — unconstitutional.

Clark is presiding over a lawsuit that Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin filed against the state and Iberville Parish in 2012. He claims in the suit that a 1993 Iberville ordinance forbidding anyone from owning wild, exotic or vicious animals for display or exhibition is unconstitutional, as is a 2006 Louisiana law barring private ownership of large and exotic cats.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, which earlier intervened in Sandlin’s suit, filed an amended intervention petition Tuesday that attacks the legality of Act 697.

Sandlin said in a telephone interview that he is breaking no laws when it comes to his 17-year-old tiger.

“The Legislature said he could stay,” he noted. “I’m not going to let animal rights people take him.”

Tony, who is an “old man” with arthritis, receives quality medical care at the truck stop, Sandlin insisted.

“If they (the Animal Legal Defense Fund) had gotten their hands on him he’d be dead already,” he added.

ALDF executive director Stephen Wells said the group has worked continuously to free Tony for nearly six years.

“We will continue to work on his behalf until he is relocated to a sanctuary equipped to meet his psychological and physical needs,” Wells said.

One of Clark’s 19th Judicial District colleagues, Judge Mike Caldwell, ruled in 2011 in a suit filed by the ALDF that Tony was not permitted by Louisiana law to remain at the truck stop. Caldwell said the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries violated its own rules by exempting Sandlin and Tiger Truck Stop from permit requirements for big cat owners.

A state appeals court in Baton Rouge upheld Caldwell’s decision, and the state Supreme Court refused to hear Sandlin’s appeal of the ruling that he cannot get a state license to keep a tiger at the truck stop.

Sandlin, who has exhibited tigers at the facility since 1984, says he has held a federal permit to keep tigers at the truck stop since 1988.

A 2006 state law bans anyone other than colleges, sanctuaries, zoos, wildlife research centers and scientific organizations from possessing big exotic cats, but Tony was living at the truck stop several years before the ban went into effect.

Senate Bill 250 of the 2014 legislative session, which became Act 697 when Gov. Bobby Jindal signed it into law, allowed Sandlin to keep only Tony. He cannot obtain more tigers, even after Tony dies.

Sandlin is suing the state for discrimination, saying he wants the option of buying a successor to Tony when he passes.

The state previously agreed not to move Tony until the lawsuit Sandlin filed against it is resolved.

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